After a long hectic day on Sunday I sat in my office, somewhat unable to move, as the week and weekend's events had finally caught up with me. The busyness of Advent and Christmas in a church loom over it all, my sister had surgery last week, holiday travels, unexpected (but welcomed) visitors stopped by, my senior minister was in the hospital, Children's Christmas plays, power outages at church... Sunday night was the first time I finally had a chance to begin to process Friday's events in Newtown, CT.
While speaking with two of my young adults in my office I mentioned that while of course this tragedy at Sandy Hook is awful and I'm still trying to wrap my head around it, I'm not all that surprised, and that is what bothers me the most. I still can't fathom the grief and despair, or the overwhelming loss, but I'm bothered most by the fact that this doesn't seem surprising.
The earliest attack or form of real violence that I can remember was Waco, TX in 1993. Then there was the OK City bombing in 1995. Then there was Jonesboro, Columbine, September 11th; then shoe bombs on planes, more school shootings that never made the news because there was only one or two people killed, the unabomber and of course the Westboro Baptist Church continues to be violent and deadly in their own awful way. Life has been characterized by deaths of soldiers and police officers, Virginia Tech, the Amish school shooting in Pennsylvania, Gabrielle Giffords in Arizona, the movie theater in Colorado, the Sikh temple in Wisconsin, and now Sandy Hook Elementary.
Anyone that is near my age and younger... we are exhausted, and if you're like me, at a loss for words because you've already said the same type of things to yourself over and over and over again. "Never again," "When will it end?" and "Something has to change." These words are being said closer and closer to one another as yet one more story tears across headlines, Twitter feeds and cell phones.
I have had a more than privileged and blessed life, but it is also an awful life. I have ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS known violence, hatred and death as part of my life, even if not directly, and it doesn't appear as if it will change any time soon. I am not alone in this.
We blame mental healthcare access, gun control, drugs, international security, "big brother," and that one political party. Then we blame foreign countries, various forms of religion, the institution of marriage, violent movies and video games, the military, the media and of course that other political party.
We're fearful to fly, fearful of vehicles parked in certain places, and fearful of churches, temples and synagogues. We've stopped living our lives because we are afraid to go to the movie theater, afraid to send our children to school and fearful of nearly everyone that does not think or look like our own family.
But we are not meant to live lives full of fear, or dread, or violence, or hatred, or death.
Humanity sucks. We do. We're awful to one another on so many levels. We suck. And we've sucked for a REALLY REALLY LONG TIME, and chances are we're going to continue sucking. But there are also so many moments of great hope, when we can be amazing toward one another. These "26 moments that restore our faith in humanity" are proof that our lives are not about fear, dread, hatred and death, rather of hope. (And these are just the 26 that social media could capture.) There is so much darkness in our world, but there is also SO, SO, SO much light... and "the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it."
The Christmas story is a timeless story because it tells us of life and hope in the darkest of places. Instead of focusing on why the government couldn't provide enough "room in the inn," or what political ploy drove the census, we focus on the coming Light into the world. Instead of arguing about the nationality of the shepherds and/or the Magi and whether they are "legal" or "illegal" and allowed to cross certain borders, we focus on the Good News that came to all people. Instead of focusing on a poor, unwed mother and questioning her sexual exploits and whether or not she had proper access to contraceptives we focus on the Incarnation that came to us in the form of a helpless, vulnerable baby boy, so that we would know we are never without God's presence.
Sandy Hook's story cannot be about gun control. Sandy Hook's story cannot only be about healthcare. Sandy Hook's story cannot continue to be the politicized conversation that drives a wedge in between all of us. The victims of Sandy Hook will be lost among this conversation if we continue to tell this story of hatred, fear, misunderstanding and dread.
Instead, Sandy Hook's story needs to be about the lives of those lost, and the hope that their short-lived lives provide to us. Instead, Sandy Hook's story needs to focus on the ways communities come together to support those who are grieving an unthinkable loss. Instead, Sandy Hook's story needs to be about the ways that God-in-us grieves together in support with those who cannot fathom this loss. Instead, Sandy Hook's story needs to focus on how God-with-us, the very best of humanity overcomes the very worst of humanity.
I know the conversations around gun control, access to better mental healthcare, religion in public schools and many other political issues will continue - and they should on some level.
But the timeless story we tell of this generation cannot continue to focus on the fear, dread, violence, hatred, or death of all those stories mentioned above. We must find a new way to tell this story of our generation, and particularly of Sandy Hook. We must find a different way to tell the story of this generation that does not center around the violence and hatred of all those stories above. We must find a way to share this story that focuses on the hope, and the love, and the faith that comes when it seems like those things are lost and impossible to find. The timelessness of this story must be on how the very best of our actions overcomes the very worst, of how the light does not allow the darkness to overcome it.
Hope and faith in times like this may be called naive. But when little else gives light and life in so much darkness, stories of hope and faith are the strongest responses we can have. So tell those stories of hope and faith, from Sandy Hook and elsewhere. Because THOSE are the stories that will provide light in a generation of much darkness, and join our story with that timeless story of hope and life. Much like the story we will celebrate in about a week, those stories of hope, and life and faith even in the darkest places are the stories that will change the world.